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[한국어 문법] Contrastive/Topic Marker ‘은/는’


받침(the last consonant) + 은
모음(vowel) + 는


Now comes the real challenge. This contrastive/topic marker ‘은/는’ is used to indicate a contrast with something else or bring up a new topic for discussion. Quite often the contrastive/topic markers ‘은’ and ‘는’ are attached to what in English we would generally consider the subject of the sentence, but instead it it the topic. Here are some examples:

저는 미국 사람이에요.
I’m American.

이분은 선생님이세요.
This person is a teacher.

Then there are other times where you are talking about someone’s likes, dislikes or interests, and in describing them you are talking about their similarities or differences from others.

저는 노란색을 좋아해요. 그리고 켈리는 파란색을 좋아해요.
I like yellow. And Kelly likes blue.


저는 노란색을 좋아하고 켈리는 파란색을 좋아해요.

It is also used to contrast and emphasize the differences or similarities of two things. In these instances the contrastive/topic marker would instead be attached to (what in English would be) the object of the sentence.

김치는 좋아해요. 그렇지만 닭갈비는 싫어해요.
(I) like Kimchi. But (I) do not like chicken Kalbi.


contrastive 은/는 – Subject of the sentence

A: 지원 씨는 고기를 안 먹어요.
지원 does not eat meat.
B: 그런데 저는 먹어요.
But I do.

Notice that these contrastive imply that one person is different in some way from the other people in the group.

A: 어제 숙제는 아주 어려웠어요.
Yesterday’s homework was very difficult.
B: 평소보다 어려워요. 그렇지요?
Tougher than usual, huh?

A: 우리 형은 대학생이에요.
My older brother is a college student.
B: 지영씨는 아직 고등학교에 다녀요?
Are you still in high school?

What’s different about the speaker? It means that the speaker doesn’t attend university, right? Or it means the person is contrasting his older brother with someone else’s sibling.

A: 이 식당은 아주 맛있어요.
This restaurant is very good.
B: 맞아요. 어제 간 곳은 아무 맛이 없었어요.
That’s right. The one yesterday was bland.

Contrastive 은/는 – Objective of the sentence

A: 오늘 아무것도 못 먹었어요. 그래도 저녁은 먹을 거예요.
I didn’t eat anything today. Still I am going to have dinner.
B: 저녁으로 뭐 먹을 거예요?
What are you going to have for dinner?

A: 음악 소리 들려요?
Can you hear the song?
B: 음악은 안 들리는데 목소리는 들려요.
I can’t hear the song, but I hear you talking.

A: 이거에 대해서 아는 게 있으세요?
Do you know anything about this?
B: 글쎄요, 책은 많이 읽었어요.
Well, I read a lot of books about this though.

Another challenge presented is that you can also attach the contrastive marker to other markers. Again this is to express a contrast:

A: 처음에는 김치를 못 먹었어요.
I could not eat Kimchi at the beginning.
B: 그럼 지금은 좋아해요?
Then, do you like it now?

A: 이거 편의점에선 안 팔아요.
You can’t buy this at a convenience store.
B: 그럼, 백화점에서는 팔아요?
Then, can I get it at the department store?

In spoken and even sometimes written Korean ‘은/는’ will just be abbreviated to a 받침 added to the previous syllable. In this instance ‘에서는’ becomes ‘에선.’ Other examples include ‘엔’, ‘한텐’, and ‘에겐.’ This also goes for ‘이것은’, ‘그것은’, and ‘저것은’, ‘이건’, ‘그건’, and ‘저건.’

A: 대전까지는 KTX로 가요.
I am going to 대전 by KTX.
B: 그럼 나머지는 어떻게 가요?
So how do you go the rest of the way?

A: 동생에게는 안 보냈어요. 그런데 누나에게는 보냈어요.
I didn’t send it to my younger brother. But I sent it to my older sister.

A: 한국말이 저한테는 어려워요.
Korean is difficult for me.
B: 그런데 한국 사람들한테는 쉬워 보일 수 있겠네요.
But it may seem easy to Koreans.

본 게시글은 ‘Survival Korean – Basic Grammar Skills / 넥서스 / Stephen Revere, 진제희’를 대부분 참고하여 작성하였습니다.

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